A timeline of advancements in Infrared Science

William Herschel ‘discovered’ infrared heat during the 19th century. He held a prism up to light from the sun and observed the refraction of light in a prism. While he was conducting this experiment he found a section of heat directly below red on the spectrum as measured by a thermometer. He originally called these rays “Calorific Rays” and proceeded to publish his results with the Royal Society of London in 1800.

Infrared Advancements Timeline

First Thermopile IR Detector

Macedonio Melloni makes the first thermopile IR detector


Blackbody Theorem

Gustav Kirchhoff formulates the blackbody theorem E = J(T,n)


Discovery of the Photoconductivity of Selenium

Willoughby Smith discovers the photoconductivity of selenium


Stefan­-Boltzmann Law

Stefan-­Boltzmann law formulated empirically that the power radiated by a blackbody is proportional to T4


UV Catastrophe and Infrared Catastrophe

During the 1880s and 1890s Lord Rayleigh and Wilhelm Wien both solve part of the blackbody equation, but both solutions are approximations that “blow up” out of their useful ranges. This problem was called the “UV Catastrophe and Infrared Catastrophe”


The Blackbody Equation & Theorem.

Max Planck published the blackbody equation and theorem. He solved the problem by quantizing the allowable energy transitions


Theory of the Photoelectric Effect

Albert Einstein develops the theory of the photoelectric effect, determining the photon. Also William Coblentz in spectroscopy and radiometry.


Development of the Thallous Sulfide Detector

Theodore Case develops thallous sulfide detector; British develop the first infrared search and track (IRST) in World War I and detect aircraft at a range of one mile (1.6 km)


Lead Salts

Early missile guidance in World War II


Pyroelectric Effect Prediction

Teau Ta predicted that the pyroelectric effect could be used to detect infrared radiation


The Zielgerät 1229 “Vampir” Infrared Weapon System Introduced

The Zielgerät 1229 “Vampir” infrared weapon system is introduced as the first portable infrared device to be used in a military application


Discovery of InSb

H. Welker discovers InSb


Infrared Images Formed

Paul Kruse (at Honeywell) and Texas Instruments form infrared images before 1955


Nomenclature & Radiometric Units Defined

During the 1950s and 1960s nomenclature and radiometric units were defined by Fred Nicodemenus, G.J. Zissis and R. Clark, Jones defines D*


Discovery of IR Detection Properties of HgCdTe

W.D. Lawson (Royal Radar Establishment in Malvern) discovers IR detection properties of HgCdTe


Falcon & Sidewinder Missiles Developed

Falcon & Sidewinder missiles developed using infrared and the first textbook on infrared sensors appears by Paul Kruse, et al.


Pyroelectric Detection Demonstrated

J. Cooper demonstrated pyroelectric detection


Advancement of HgCdTe

Kruse and Rodat advance HgCdTe; Signal Element and Linear Arrays available


Multiple Discoveries and Creations

First IR Handbook; first commercial imagers (Barnes, Agema {now part of FLIR Systems Inc.}). Richard Hudson’s landmark text; F4 TRAM FLIR by Hughes; phenomenology pioneered by Fred Simmons and A.T. Stair; U.S. Army’s night vision lab formed (now Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate (NVESD); and Rachets develops detection, recognition and identification modeling while there


Proposal for Picture Phone

Willard Boyle & George E. Smith propose CCD at Bell Labs for picture phone


Common Module Program Started

Common module program started by NVESD


Infrared Imaging Astronomy Comes of Age

Infrared imaging astronomy comes of age, observatories planned, IRTF on Mauna Kea opened; 32 by 32 and 64 by 64 arrays are produced in InSb, HgCdTe and other materials